Wikipedia:WikiProject Military history/News/September 2012/Book reviews

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City of Fortune - Roger Crowley

Map of the territories of the Republic of Venice and its major trade routes

4/5 stars

By Nick-D

City of Fortune is a history of the Republic of Venice's maritime empire (the Stato da Màr) between the early 1000s and its peak in the 1500s. It was written by British historian Roger Crowley, and covers the political, economic and military history of the empire during this period.

This book provides a very solid account of the development, expansion and eventual marginalisation of the Stato da Màr. While I have a degree of familiarity with the history of Venice, I knew almost nothing about its imperial possessions before reading the book. Crowley's description of the main events in the history of the empire is clearly written, and his analysis of the factors which underpinned the empire's development is excellent. While few of Venice's many wars are covered in detail, the book provides good coverage of how the Venetian military was maintained and deployed, as well as the tactics it used.

The main flaw in the book is that while it's relatively short (about 500 years are covered in 380 pages) and generally written at a high level, at times it becomes bogged down in detail. The section on the Fourth Crusade was particularly over-long; while this was clearly a central event in the history of the empire, the blow-by-blow coverage of events in and around Constantinople seemed out of place.

Overall, however, City of Fortune will be of considerable value to people with an interest in the military and economic history of this period, as well as people with a general interest in Venetian history.

Publishing details: Crowley, Roger (2012). City of Fortune : How Venice Ruled the Seas. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0571245951. 

Roundshot to Rapier: Artillery in South Australia 1840–1984 – David Brooks (ed.)

3/5 stars

By AustralianRupert

Roundshot to Rapier: Artillery in South Australia 1840–1984 is an edited work that consists of a series of chapters on various topics focusing upon the development of artillery in the state of South Australia and units of the Australian Army that have a connection to it. Edited by David Brooks, a retired Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery officer, the book is made up of 20 chapters written by a wide variety of contributors including Lieutenant General Sir Frank Berryman, who was one of the few Australians to command a corps-level formation in war; Major General Arthur Wilson, former colonel commandant of artillery in South Australia; and noted Australian historian, Colonel E.G. Keogh, who contributed the post script before his death in 1981 (before the book was finished). There are also works by lesser known writers including a former AWAS bombardier, a World War I veteran who served as a driver on the Western Front, and a subaltern who witnessed the Tet Offensive during his tour of Vietnam. There are also perspectives from members of the Regular Army and Reserves, which gives it more depth, and enables it to cover off on topics such as training, coastal, searchlight, experimental and anti-aircraft artillery units, discussion of which is rarely found in more mainstream publications. Its coverage of the interwar years was very enlightening, but I found its coverage of World War I disappointing.

Research for the book began in 1962, but it was not published until 1986. In this regard, it was clearly a labour of love for the editor. Commissioned by the Royal Australian Artillery Association of South Australia, the book has a narrow focus and has reasonably low production values, although the hardcover adds to its durability as a "working" book. There are few images, although those that are there are quite good, having been sourced from personal collections as well as more recognised institutions. Those that are used in the chapters about the early development of artillery in South Australia are of particularly good quality, having been sourced from the Mortlock Library of South Australiana. They are also quite interesting from a historical point of view, clearly illustrating the influence that the British had on the shape and look of early military forces in Australia, which is a theme that is sometimes glossed over by Australian historians.

One of the 2/3rd Field Regiment's Short 25-pounders near Danmap, New Guinea, January 1945

At 349 pages, the content is detailed and without being an expert on the subject, it seems quite accurate. The chapters themselves are written mainly for enthusiasts, or former artillerymen and women, though, and as such focus on noting aspects that, while obviously important in the life of a military unit, would probably be seen as esoteric to a general reader. For example, often only limited context is given as to why units moved or were re-equipped and I found the presentation style a little frustrating, particularly the refusal to identify people by their full names, which made it difficult to try to research them further. The sources used by the chapter contributors are mainly primary documents sourced from the Australian War Memorial, such as unit war diaries, as well as archives from the State Library of South Australia and personal recollections and letters. Almost no secondary sources were used, which might be partly why the chapters lack broader context. Unfortunately, only three chapters employ footnotes/references, which again makes it difficult for a reader to do any follow on research, or to verify the information for themselves. This is probably the book's main flaw.

As an old book – it is 26 years old – its availability is limited to the larger libraries such as the State Library of South Australia, the National Library of Australia, and the University of New South Wales in Canberra. If interested, the nearest copy can be located through Worldcat. Some second hand book sellers also hold the book, but it could be difficult to find unless they have good catalogues. As such, I suggest ordering it through a reputable online seller who can source the book on your behalf from sellers all over the world. I use AbeBooks, but there are also many others that are just as good in my opinion.

I got the book out of the library to start writing a series of articles on Australian Army artillery units and I found it invaluable as a source of dates of movement, equipment and personnel scales, and changes in unit commanding officers, etc. I recommend the book for anyone that has an avid interest in the minutiae of unit life, the early establishment of military forces in Australia, or if you have a personal desire to research specific artillery units linked to South Australia. For instance if you had a grandfather that served in the 2/3rd, 2/7th,13th or 2/14th Field Regiments during World War II, the book would provide an excellent way for you to try to understand some of their stories, or to provide context to some of those seemingly meaningless lines on their service record.

  • Publishing details: Brook, David, ed. (1986). Roundshot to Rapier: Artillery in South Australia 1840–1984. Hawthorndene, South Australia: Investigator Press for the Royal Australian Artillery Association of South Australia. ISBN 9780858640986. 

Recent external book reviews

Taylor, Stephen (2012). Commander : The Life and Exploits of Britain's Greatest Frigate Captain. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 057127711X. 

Witt, John Fabian (2012). Lincoln's Code : The Laws of War in American History. New York: Free Press. ISBN 1416569839. 

  • Bass, Gary J. (28 September 2012). "Rules of War". The New York Times. 

Logevall, Fredrik (2012). Twilight War : The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam. New York: Random House. ISBN 0375504427. 

Murtazashvili, Donald Alexander; Downs, Ilia (2012). Arms and the University : Military Presence and the Civic Education of Non-Military Students. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 052115670X. 

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